In the late seventies Texas Instruments had the idea of introducing computers into the same homes, businesses and schools in which its calculators were used. Its first machine, the TI-99/4, was released in June 1979. It retailed for $1,200 and came with 16KB RAM, 31KB ROM, a 13-inch Zenith monitor and a slim 41-chracter keyboard. Though the system drew praise from critics and developed a loyal following, its high pricetag kept it from catching on with the mainstream.
Texas Instruments followed the TI-99/4 computer with the TI-99/4A. This time the company was determined to keep the system's price down. The TI-99/4A was built more efficiently, requiring fewer chips than its predecessor. With its product now affordable to middle America, Texas Instruments could compete with major companies like Commodore, Apple and Atari.
The TI-99/4A was powered by a 16-bit TMS-9900 microprocessor that ran at 3.3MHz. Included with the system were 16KB RAM (upgradable to 48KB) and 26KB ROM. The TI-99/4A featured a 48-key keyboard and up to 2 joysticks could be plugged into its controller port. It could connect to a home television set with an RF modulator and could display 16 colors on-screen. Later, in early 1983, Texas Instruments released a cassette tape interface that could save or retrieve data at 450 baud. The retail price for the console alone was $525. Unfortunately Texas Instruments chose to discourage third party support with the TI-99/4A, so a minimal software selection was available for the system.
One peripheral that made the TI-99/4A unique from its competitors was the MBX voice recognition system manufactured by Milton Bradley. The MBX featured a headset with a microphone and enabled users' voices to act as a controller for on-screen action. When a person spoke a predetermined instruction into the microphone, the MBX would recognize it and translate it into a command for the computer. It retailed for $129.95. Game cartridges (called Command Modules) made for the MBX system include Space Bandits, Sewermania, Meteor Belt, Superfly and Championship Baseball.
By the late fall 1982, the TI-99/4A was outselling its main competition, the Commodore VIC-20, thanks to a $100 rebate Texas Instruments had offered
consumers. By April, Texas Instruments announced that they had shipped a total of one million computers since entering the market in June 1979.
In February 1983, Texas Instruments' runaway success began to hit rocky ground. Shipments of the TI-99/4A system were recalled because of a defective power supply. The total cost to fix the problem was $50 million. Also at this time Texas Instruments became involved in a heated rebate war with Commodore. The retail price of each company's system went into freefall.Eventually the VIC-20's price was reduced to a $125. Texas Instruments soon matched this price even though it could no longer make money on its computer. After losing $223 million in the first 9 months of 1983, Texas Instruments announced that it would be stopping production of the TI-99/4A. On March 28, 1984 the company produced its final system and left the field of personal computers forever. ~ Dave Beuscher, All Game Guide